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The race we must strive to win

Mark Butler 16 Jun 2020

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month is a stark and dreadful reminder of the racism that exists in our society and of the discrimination and disadvantage that many people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds face.

The explosion of protest prompted by Mr Floyd’s death, both in the US and in other parts of the world, has also reassured me that, thankfully, there are many people who believe passionately that everyone is equal and no one should be subjected to hate or unfair treatment because of the colour of his or her skin.

As I watched people of all colours show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, my mind turned to the inequality and injustice that, sadly, is too often experienced by BAME nursing and health care workers.

It wasn’t the first time recently that I’ve had these thoughts. News of the disproportionately high number of BAME health care staff dying with COVID-19 was already playing on my mind, and then came the results of the RCN’s latest survey of members on their experience of accessing Personal Protective Equipment at work, which showed that members from a BAME background are less likely to be able to secure adequate PPE than their White counterparts.

This is alarming, avoidable and simply not acceptable.

As a nurse and as an elective representative of the RCN I am committed to the College’s ambition to be a champion of equality, diversity, inclusion and human rights. It’s a great privilege to represent all of our members but it’s also a responsibility, and it’s with that in mind that I want us to be able to keep asking our members and ourselves honestly: Are we doing everything we can to help stamp out racism and ensure our BAME colleagues are treated fairly?


I am proud that in the West Midlands we have taken some very positive steps in recent years to recognise the contributions of our BAME members, to protect them from discrimination and to support them if they are treated unjustly.

Our Black History Month conference each October has gone from strength to strength and though we don’t yet know what the effects of the pandemic will mean for this year’s event, we are determined to find a meaningful way to celebrate the occasion.

We were also the first region to establish Cultural Ambassadors, volunteers from BAME groups who are trained by the RCN and then deployed by their employers to identify and challenge discrimination and cultural bias.

They use these skills in their role as a neutral observer within disciplinary processes, formal investigations and grievance hearings involving staff from BAME backgrounds, and the results of their contribution continue to assure us their work is both necessary and effective.

But we must not be complacent. We must remain vigilant to the insidious threat of racism and racial exclusion and we must continue to play our part in resisting it.

The most recent indicators of workforce race equality in the NHS show performance in some respects is going in the wrong direction – for example, a higher proportion of BAME staff experienced discrimination from a manager or colleague last year than in 2016 when the Workforce Race Equality Scheme (WRES) results were published for the first time. It’s a similar, worsening story when it comes to confidence among BAME staff that their employer provides equal opportunities for career progression. Over four years, the situation has deteriorated, not improved.

Only when our BAME members do not have worse outcomes and experiences than their White colleagues in relation to career progression, disciplinary action or any other measure will we be able to say our mission is accomplished.

Mark Butler

Mark Butler

Chair, RCN West Midlands Board

Mark is the Chair of the RCN West Midlands Board. A mental health nurse by profession, he works for Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, an integrated provider of health and social care services in Staffordshire and Shropshire, and is the RCN's lead representative at the organisation. Mark is also a volunteer with St John Ambulance.

Page last updated - 18/05/2022